A curious rivalry

I had a realization the other day when I was talking to someone.

Just out of the blue, it hit me.

A conversational epiphany, I suppose.

But throughout the conversation, this person kept trying to one up me.

If I said something, they responded with, “Oh, how wonderful! I have done ___”
Fill in the blank with something of greater success, greater magnitude or greater sorrow – take your pick.

This person was trying — and succeeding — at one-upping me.

I didn’t catch it at first and thought they were generally engaging in conversation.

I am not even sure if the person was aware they were doing it.

But even my dull observations were one-upped.

Every time I made a comment, she had to see my boring stat and raise it to mundane.

Finally, I had to just smile and walk away. I was emotionally exhausted and didn’t like the competitive game I had not agreed to play.

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. But it has grown considerably worse over the years.

Why do some people feel the need to best someone else? Is it that important to get one more word in, to have something better than their friends?

Since when did we live our lives in perpetual comparison and competition?

Granny dealt with it with one of her sisters.

“I swunny,” she began one day. “It doesn’t matter what I am dealing with, that sister of mine has got it worse. Or better, depending on which way she is trying to irritate me.”

“Why does she do that?” I asked.

“Who knows. Because she is a miserable human being and she is trying to make herself feel special by trying to out do me no matter what it is. If something good happens to me, she’s had better. If something bad happens, hers is worse.”

I chalked that up to just a lifelong sibling rivalry but have found it happens quite often between folks that are related. And sometimes, even more often between those we consider friends.

I don’t get it.

Can’t we just be happy for others, or commiserate with them if need be, and let them have their moment?

Do we have to go around trying to compare ourselves to everyone else?

Granny would tell you Facebook was possibly to blame.

Before she passed away, she blamed the social media platform for all of societies ill; at least she was finally giving Madonna a break.

She may be right.

I caught myself seeing someone’s status update recently and felt like I wanted to scream my accomplishments, too – didn’t my stuff matter?

Mama assured me my stuff did matter, but maybe that person’s stuff was equally important.

“Can’t you be happy for them?” she asked.

I balked at a response. I was happy for them. Wasn’t I?

“What if they told you that in person? What would your response be?” she asked.

“I’d congratulate them,” I said.

“Then why do you feel the need to shout what you’ve done now?”

I wasn’t sure.

Part of me felt like I wanted someone to see I had done something, too. I wanted them to be proud of me, or to applaud what I had accomplished. I wanted it to be known that while they had something great happen, so had I.

I did refrain; I am my mother’s daughter, after all, so I knew to take the higher road.

But I still felt a pang of rivalry. It wasn’t quite jealousy or envy. No, this was some other offense, that wanted to poo-poo all over whatever another had done and scream, “But look at me! I did this!”

Just like I had someone do to me.

It’s an ugly, horrible, bitter trespass that has no redeeming qualities.

I hated it when someone did the one-up thing with me, so why would I get the hankering to do the same thing?

Mama reminded me Pop used to do it, standing around Kelly Lumber Yard, with his buddies all bragging about their grandchildren. He loved to save his turn to the very last, so he could tell them how his only granddaughter had made straight A’s.

“That’s different,” I told her. “That was the equivalent of the biggest fish they caught but instead of fish, they used grandkids. And it just feels different.”

“Why does it feel different, Kitten?” Mama asked. “Because someone was bragging on you?”

Ouch. I didn’t see that one coming.

But that wasn’t the reason.
Maybe it was the context of the situation. When those men gathered ‘round with their cups of coffee and red link biscuits waiting on their construction supplies, they knew they were getting in a braggart’s folly. They also wanted to share what their grandchildren had done – not them. It wasn’t about them but about someone they loved.

And that is vastly different than my recent experience.

The person in question had a history of no matter what I was talking about, she always had to one-up. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.

It was a matter of belittling everything anyone else had ever done or thought about doing.

It circled back to Granny’s earlier comment about her sister doing the very thing to her because she was miserable. At least in Granny’s opinion, she was.

“You know what Granny told her sister the last time she tried that one-up game with her?” Mama asked.

“What?” Inquiring minds truly did want to know.

“She told her that sometimes it wasn’t always about her,” Mama said.

“And sometimes, I think that’s good reminder for us all.”


Everyone’s a critic (7/19/2017)

It seems like everyone’s a critic these days.

Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor have made it easy.

Just because someone has a keyboard and an opinion, they think it needs to be expressed.

It’s particularly easy when its anonymous. Keyboard warriors like to hide behind a fake name and complain and criticize others, in hopes of seeing the effect of their cruel words.

People seem to get a rush when they have had a less than stellar experience and can complain about it online.

Sadly, those types of comments are the ones that garner the most response, too.

Because the internet is not going to let someone post a complaint without everyone chiming in with their own two cents about it.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say….” Mama would begin.

“I know, I know. Don’t say anything at all.” How Granny got to speak was beyond me, because she never said anything nice. But Mama always urged me to not say anything that wasn’t nice and, I sincerely, earnestly try.

But people love to be critical and mean.

And it is something I just can’t comprehend.

Someone asked me recently if I took criticism well.

I told them it depends on the spirit in which it was given.

I’ve been around people who thought the best way to help someone was to tear them down, forgetting to ever build them back up.

Unfortunately, some of these people were in supervisory positions – how, I don’t know, because being critical to the point of soul crushing is not leadership.

But criticism, when it is given with the intention of being constructive and helping people change, can be helpful.

Still painful, nonetheless, but helpful.

If we haven’t been told how to correct a mistake the first time we make it, we don’t realize we’ve done anything wrong.

We think we are doing a good job – especially when we keep doing it and no one says anything.

When someone finally does say something, it stings. Horribly.

The even more frustrating part?

That uncomfortable space is where we grow.

It may not feel like it at first but it is.

I say this and I have the world’s thinnest skin.

But if someone is trying to help me improve, I appreciate the time it took for them to do it.

And in that awkward, uncomfortable space of hearing our flaws and missteps, we have to realize we are not being personally attacked but coached so we can do a better job.

It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t make us happy. It can be terrifying to hear we have messed up.

It can also be wonderful to hear what we’ve done right and hopefully if they are trying to help you, they should tell you what you did correctly.

“Do I even breathe right?” I remember asking someone who was particularly critical once.

“You do tend to sigh a lot,” the supervisor complained, which made me only sigh more.

Even though that was a particularly dry place to try to grow, it taught me how I wanted to be treated and how to treat people I worked with.

The sad thing is, there’s more people like this one out there – people who are trying to make others just as miserable as they are.

Instead of focusing on the areas that need improvement, I am going to focus on what they are doing right and hope that will be magnified.

And I am going to tell people too.

When I see something going right, I am going to call the manager to let them know. When I have a great experience, I am going to talk about that on Twitter.

No one likes a critic.

So I am going to start spreading praise like crazy and see how that goes.


Don’t ‘shoulda’ all on yourself (10/15/2014)

I have a bad habit of ‘shoulda’-ing on everything. I’ve done it for quite a while, unfortunately, and just now realized it.

I think most people ‘shoulda’ about what they personally should have done. Our hindsight is always so crystal – we can see better choices, better options, the errors we made. If only we had done this, done that, not done what we did. A lot of shoulda happens in the dark corners of our mind when we think about things.

Usually, I don’t get caught up in the things I should have done. My rationale is it is in the past, it is done, over, kaput and I can’t hop in a DeLorean and travel back to change anything. Sure, I’ve made my share of mistakes. I have made some humdingers and some doozies. But I guess I am either foolish or wise enough (there is a pretty thin line there) to know that there’s not a lot that can be done about it in the present.

My biggest pile of shoulda involves what I think others shoulda done.
It’s a generational shoulda, really. I do this like my Mama, who is only repeating what she saw her own mama do.

It’s terrible, really. We don’t even realize how bad we were at shoulda-ing.
When I lost three of my pups last summer – all within a month – I made a mental note of who had expressed their condolences. Probably more importantly, I noted who did not.
On both sides, I was shocked. Some people I had not spoken to in years offered sympathy; a few who were supposed to be my dearest friends didn’t even acknowledge my loss.

I filed it all away in my little mental safe, telling myself that it was during those moments we found out who our true friends were, who really cared about us and those that were not real friends.
When Granny passed away the following spring, a similar thing occurred.
Some people expressed sympathy; some people didn’t.

We won’t even get into the texts messages I received as I sat with my Mama and uncle, making her arrangements, by people who knew good and well where I was, two hours away and the nature of the business I was tending to. I uttered some bad words and curses that woulda made my Granny proud.
It hurts when we grieve, when we succeed or have any significant thing happen in our life and the people we have invested time in don’t acknowledge it. I honestly think this happens to everyone. Is it a matter of sometimes, we just care more about others than they do us? Or are some people so self-involved that if it isn’t about them, they don’t care?

Mama was talking about Granny the other day and mentioned how one of the few, rare friends that had outlived the old gal didn’t even call to say she was sorry Granny had passed.

“I find that just dreadful,” Mama said. She was on her proprietary soapbox and for once, I couldn’t blame her. “Every time that woman had a hang nail, Granny took her chicken and biscuits and she couldn’t even call to say she was sorry Granny had died?”

I understood – believe me. I did. To the very core of my being, I knew where Mama was coming from and this time, I let her rant.

“Mama, I am going to be honest with you. I thought that lady had kicked the bucket 15 years ago. Are you sure she’s alive?”

“She’s alive, alright,” Mama said. “She’s alive and well because she called over here in the fall to see if we wanted to buy some $40 bucket of popcorn for her great-grandchild’s school fundraiser. Granny told her our colons won’t tolerate any kind of corn anymore, so I guess she decided to mark Granny off her list.”

Mama made her little ‘hrrmping’ noise she makes when her fur is petted backwards. “She should have at least called to say she was sorry,” was her final comment.
I try or at least I think I do, to care and comment and praise or empathize with those I care about. Try being the operative word here. I am not as great at that as I should be.

A few months later, Mama asked me if one of my dear friends knew Granny had died. I told her I didn’t know if she did or not, I hadn’t heard from her in a while. She’s busy, I’m busy – I gave Mama the excuses, but I felt certain a mutual friend had surely told her. It hurt. It hurt more than I wanted to admit and I pushed it off, saying “oh, well, she’s been so busy and Granny was rude as an alley cat to her last time she saw her…”

On Cole’s birthday, I received an email, sending SuperBaby well wishes and wanting an update on what was new in my world. It had been close to a year since our last emails.

“In case you didn’t know…Granny died in March…”
She didn’t know. But she did know how bad it hurt because she had dealt with loss and painful grief too. “I know what you are going through…if you need me, no matter how busy I am, I am a call away…”

Why hadn’t I emailed her, or called her? I knew how she had been grieving – why hadn’t I been the one to send an email or a card or a call, or heck, an impersonal text message and say, ‘how are you?’, ‘I am thinking about you.’ No, I hadn’t. And boy, I shoulda. I really shoulda.
Mama was fussing again a few days later. This time, my heart, was softened, having compassion instead of filled with shouldas.

“Mama, I know you think they should have done things differently. I don’t really disagree with you. I know Granny would have done it like that. But that was her generation, things were just different then,” I began. “But maybe instead of us imposing our rules on people unaware to them, we should realize maybe they are doing the best they can. Maybe they have things they are working through in their own lives and it’s not easy for them to be able to offer support to someone else.”

Mama was quiet. She does that when she is considering I may actually know a thing or two.
“You may be right,” she said, leaning in to what I was saying. “Maybe we have been too hard on some people. There may be times we shoulda done more too. We do need to quit getting upset when people don’t do what we think they should do, when maybe they don’t know they should have done it.”

“Say what?”

“We gotta quit getting upset when people don’t do what we think they should.”

We shoulda done that a long time ago.